The Elevator*

Imagine you’re 14 years old. You are with the kids from the neighborhood, maybe where you went to school. You have known each other a long time but you still feel awkward and different. You’re fat or have glasses or a speech impediment or weird clothes or a weird family or you’re really, really smart. Maybe you have secrets you are never supposed to tell. Maybe all of those things. All you know is that you do not fit in.

Now you all find yourself at the top of the highest building you can imagine. The view of the sky, the horizon, the landscape, are amazing, beautiful, full of promise. Your friends are happy, taking in the sights, talking excitedly about the day. You are fidgety, impatient, bored. You want to get on to the next adventure.

You try to get everyone the elevator on this top floor. “This will be awesome”, you tell them as you hand out beers as they get on. Some decide not to get on, content where they are, with what they have.

You notice there are no buttons in the elevator, no emergency stop: just a huge red down arrow and more beer, wine and alcohol than you can imagine. Every time empty one another one appears. The anticipation of where this elevator will take you is building.

The arrow turns green and it begins to descend. Your stomach does a little “flip” with the drop of a few floors. You are excited by the sudden but unfamiliar sensation. Your friends gasp, the look of fear evident. Several people throw up. The elevator stops and some get out: they’re not up for this unpredictable ride to nowhere.

You keep drinking. The door closes to continue the down. This time the drop is faster and longer. It feels like a rocket ship to center Earth. You grip the handrails to keep the momentum from hurtling you towards the ceiling. Your adrenaline surges: you are laughing with the thrill of it.

There are only a handful of you left. Another tremendous drop and a jolting stop throws someone to the floor, another person falls into a group in the corner, someone is unconscious on the floor. They are out as soon as the doors open. Now it’s only you and your best drinking buddy. Just before the doors close, she wobbles through them unsteadily, first walking then crawling. As she turns around, you see her expression turn from fear to relief.

The doors close again. You are in an endless plummet. The green arrow is blinking faster and faster with the speed of descent. You close your eyes. Your feeling of excitement has become abject fear. When you open your eyes, the elevator car has shrunken and become dark and cold.

Your heart is beating out of your chest, your head is pounding, you squirm to find a position to relieve your anxiety and pain, you are asking yourself why you are still on this DAMN ELEVATOR! Now you are screaming into the abyss: “STOP! STOP! STOP! LET ME OUT! I AM DONE!”

A soft light comes on in the elevator. It comes to a slow, soft stop. The doors open to a set of ascending stairs. You begin to climb, unsteadily at first. You can hear voices upstairs: they sound happy, they’re laughing. You stumble and suddenly someone comes to help you. You shake them off and stumble again. They reach out a hand and smile. This time you accept the help and begin to climb out of the darkness. You know you can’t do this alone.

* The title, The Elevator, is inspired by my friend Paul Churchill and his Recovery Elevator podcast, which I have been binge-listening for the past several weeks. Paul is committed not only to his own recovery, but to being of service to others and helping them with theirs. The RE podcast quickly became one of my tools to maintain my sobriety and the people around the country who I have met, personally and virtually, through Paul, inspire and motivate everyday to continue living a life of sobriety. Thank you Paul.

 

So, I did a thing…

…or more accurately, I stopped doing a thing. Three years, two months and twenty days ago I quit drinking. I mentioned it in yesterday’s “the right shoes” post but kind of buried the headline. Ok, I DID bury the headline.

There was no cataclysmic moment of reckoning, no lightning strike, no “come to (enter name of deity of your choice), no intervention, no job loss, no family drama: I was just tired. Tired and ashamed.

Now I have been tired many times: too much work, not enough sleep, long drives, boring meetings, vacation recovery, etc. But this was the tired of a person who had no energy, no hope, no joy, and no long-range outlook, sunny or otherwise. Everyday was an effort. I often wished I would just go to sleep and never wake up.

During the day someone always pissed me off, pushed my buttons, hurt my feelings, talked down to me. And so, I would plan to drink at them. That would show them, although they would never know. I would plan my box-o-wine stop at one of the three stores on my one and a quarter mile “commute” home. I rotated my stores, so people didn’t think I was an alcoholic because, you know, I was and I am. Towards the end, just thinking about and planning my drinking made me excited and lifted my mood.

My paranoia about drinking didn’t stop at the store. I often worried that the recycling guys knew I was an alcoholic because of how many bottles and boxes I went through each week. Of course, among the thousands of homes where they stopped to collect each week, I knew they were really only thinking about mine. (Oddly, when I stopped drinking, I thought they would notice that too and know I was an alcoholic.)

And then there was the shame. Someone once told me the difference between guilt and shame: guilt is how you feel about something you did, and shame is how feel about who you are. Yes, it was shame. I was a highly accomplished, well-educated and respected member of both my professional and local communities. I participated, I volunteered, I worked, I traveled, I had friends and hobbies and for a long time I was invited to things.

But as my disease progressed, invitations were few and far between. I didn’t care, I just drank at home, a lot. One of those many mornings that I regretfully woke up, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I stepped closer to the huge well-lit bathroom mirror to look into my own eyes: they were hollow, I was hollow.

Through a series of what I thought were coincidences, I ran into a friend who had recently gotten sober after a relapse of several years. I told her I was thinking about quitting.

She offered to meet me the following Monday at a meeting. And that Monday afternoon, she was there. And that was the beginning of a journey of recovery that has changed my life in ways I couldn’t imagine.

I stopped doing a thing, so I could do, and enjoy, everything else. I stopped doing a thing so I could have a life and I do.

I can’t go, I don’t have the right shoes

I can come up with a million perfectly valid reasons (excuses) not to try something new or go somewhere different. It might be not having the right shoes or the right clothes; not knowing what to bring or who else will be there, and if they’ll like me. Then, of course, there is thinking I’ll probably be the oldest, fattest, weirdest, loudest, (feel free to insert your insecurity here) person there.

All those things sprang immediately to mind last August when my friend Kristin told me about a travel opportunity to Thailand and Cambodia for two weeks. I had been talking about how much I miss traveling. As a single person, the thought of creating a value-packed itinerary to see all the destination highlights seems daunting. Making schedules, lists, agendas, arrangements and “Plans B” are a significant part of my daily life. I don’t want planning a vacation to be another job.

I thought of going on one of those 10-day pre-planned trips, the ones you might see in AAA magazine, but the idea of traveling foreign lands with a busload of Royal Order of Jack-a-lope from Red Rover, Iowa or the Chartreuse Shoe Ladies of Couch Springs, Minnesota was, well, underwhelming. When it comes right down to it, I would still be traveling alone. Lots of pictures of me in front of very important landmarks alone, or with my new friends Myrtle and Buddy who I would never see again. So, the idea of traveling with at least one person I knew and enjoyed hanging out with was appealing.

And then there’s the drinking. I stopped drinking just over three years ago and I had no concept of a vacation without alcohol.

Every non-family vacation I had been on since the age of 16 involved copious quantities of alcohol and that’s the way I liked it. Most of my travel was to resort-y type destinations with pools and beaches and excursions to interesting places that consistently included breweries, wineries, and tequila-ries. My “right shoe” fears and insecurities disappeared quickly after the first drink so I could “enjoy” vacation. And by enjoy, I mean drinking during the day late into the night, waking up hungover and tired and doing it all again for the next 6 days. Sounds awesome right? It was exhausting, and painful, and sad.

Kristin’s trip to Southeast Asia was different. It was organized by Recovery Elevator (recoveryelevator.com), a group that brings, “like-minded individuals together…who seek a better life without alcohol through support and accountability.” Not only would someone else plan the trip and tell me what shoes to wear, but there would be NO drinking. That’s right, no happy hours, no distillery stops, no tastings, no bed spins, no hangover, no vomiting, no regrets, no shame.

I went on the trip and it was one of the best experiences of my life. You see, it was never about the shoes or the clothes or the age or the ability or the “fatness” for me; it was about the fear. It was always about the fear.

Try the new thing, take the trip. If you don’t have the right shoes, the ones you have will work or you’ll find the ones you need when you get there. And there might be some time to go barefoot.

New-Old Things (repost from FB August 10, 2014)

imageI’m embarrassed to admit the last time I went berry or anything picking was 2 age brackets ago so yesterday’s blueberry outing with friends was a welcome new-old venture. A leisurely drive up the winding country road to Pitcher Mountain on a warm and sunny Saturday morning set the tone for a relaxing day.

After gathering our baskets and buckets we walked up the main path together in search of blueberries to be mixed, frozen, snacked on, sprinkled, baked and pancaked. The loud and clear voices of other pickers nearby drew us to a quieter area to find bushes less picked over. I focused my attention on finding areas with abundant fruit in larger bunches deeper and deeper into the field, trailing off by myself. Treading carefully between branches and over old rock walls, I walked through a labyrinth of growth, periodically settling in an area abounding with mature berries waiting to be liberated.

Voices faded to low murmurs, the buzzing of a bee or fly became my soundtrack accented by the periodic laugh of an excited child. The morning sun and breeze created the perfect climate. My initial industrious intent to collect as many as possible, melded into a walking meditation, my sole focus seeking out these minuscule globes that grow wild, so miraculously without tending or interference. The power of nature captured in these sweet blue-purple orbs.

I was roused from my trance with the brisk ring of a text calling me back to the parking lot and to reality. We packed up our treasurers and descended back into the world on the bumpy dirt road leading to the honor box to account for our bounty on trust.

As I popped the fruits of my labor, yes literally, into my morning pancakes, I was able to appreciate them as much for their being as for the gift of nourishment and how wonderful they would taste with my morning coffee. A blessing in any age bracket.

Stop Mowing the Weeds

I moved into my new-to-me house last September and have enjoyed watching things bloom and grow in my yard through the Spring and Summer.  I’m relieved to have a smaller yard (downsized from 2 1/2 acres); gardening and mowing are now doable tasks without committing an entire weekend. I’ve downsized my life as well: big yard to little yard; big house to little house; lots of stuff to less stuff; “frenemies” to friends; couple to single. I had to do a lot of weeding on all fronts during the transition and it wasn’t easy.

My previous yard had beautiful green grass. My new lawn, well, not so much. The dirt is more sand than anything else. The few times I’ve mowed, I kicked up enough dirt and sand to look like I just face-planted in a dirt pile. My friends know this is a very real possibility. I’ve managed to locate 6 or 7 healthy blades of grass among the dandelions, horse weed, crab grass, ragweed, quack grass, and mug wort (thank you Google Images). But as long as it looks like grass on the surface that’s good enough, right? For a minute maybe.

I went out this morning to weed and mow before the heat took over the day. The gardens looked good so I turned my attention to the lawn and the plethora of non-grass plants (weeds) protruding from same. I could clearly just mow over the weeds, like unpleasant problems, and move on with the rest of my yard.  But as I said, I’d done that before but the weeds kept coming back because the roots were still there, under the surface, ready to spring forth unbidden at any time.

I decided that today I would try the same approach with my lawn that I’d taken with my life. I would dig up the weeds first, thank them for keeping the soil together when nothing else would, and then unceremoniously toss them into the pile of detritus that no longer served a purpose in my life. I grabbed my pitchfork and shovel, my tools of destruction, to have at it.

The smaller weeds came out easily with a twist and turn of my hand. Gone. The larger weeds, the ones that had planted themselves and taken root many years ago, took quite a bit of effort and I considered just cutting off the tops to make things look better. But I was committed to doing the work to rid myself of them long term, roots and all. After about 45 minutes I looked around and realized that once I dealt with the weeds, the rest of the lawn looked pretty good.

Weeding is hard work. I fully anticipate that some of the weeds will return on occasion and some new weeds will appear as well. But now I have the tools to manage them. Stop mowing the weeds.

weeding